The Judicial Ethics Forum (JEF)

An Academic Discussion of Judicial Ethics, Discipline & Disqualification

In Memoriam: The Passing of Monroe Freedman and the Dimming of Legal Ethics

Posted by kswisher on Thursday, February, 26, 2015

With nothing but sadness, I must report that Professor, Dean Emeritus, and now Judicial Ethics Forum Emeritus Monroe Freedman passed away today.  In addition to the inherent sadness, anything reported about Monroe — a founder of modern legal ethics — will be an understatement.  Fortunately, of the many tributes to Monroe over his storied career, two particularly fitting and detailed tributes have already been published: see Ralph Temple’s 1988 piece here; and a Hofstra Law Review Symposium dedicated to Monroe’s work here (including works from Alan Dershowitz, Steve Gillers, Tom Morgan, Deborah Rhode, Roy Simon, among others).   Monroe was an advocate and scholar of firsts, as Hofstra Law School reports (citations omitted):

Freedman was the first legal scholar to argue that the Bar’s restrictions on lawyer advertising violate the First Amendment and to point out that the anti-advertising rules blocked information about lawyers’ services from less educated and less sophisticated people who most need the information.  He was also the first to attack restrictions on trial publicity by defendants and defense attorneys, to argue that lawyers should be permitted to reveal information necessary to prevent death or serious bodily harm, to argue that law professors’ sexual relations with students should be recognized as unethical conduct; to argue that the lawyer’s decision to represent a client is a moral decision and subject to the moral scrutiny of others, and to analyze the ethics of coaching witnesses and to discuss the relevance of scholarship in behavioral psychology.

Moreover, many readers will have used Monroe’s canonical scholarly works, which included Lawyers’ Ethics in an Adversary System (1975) and Understanding Lawyers’ Ethics (4th ed. 2010) (with Prof. Abbe Smith).  Monroe taught me (and countless other lawyers, professors, and judges) an irreplaceable amount about confidentiality norms, legal advertising, and the due process implications of judicial elections and judicial recusal.  (A personal favorite of mine from Monroe’s judicial ethics scholarship is Judicial Impartiality in the Supreme Court — The Troubling Case of Justice Stephen Breyer.)  Monroe was so well-known in the field — and for so many notable accomplishments — that listing only a few items admittedly paints a misleadingly understated picture, but to mislead out of the terrible necessity of the occasion:

  • Monroe became the fifth recipient of the ABA Michael Franck Award, which is the ABA’s highest honor in ethics and professionalism, following Michael Franck himself, Father Drinan, Mark Harrison, and Lewis Van Dusen;
  • Monroe’s advocacy and scholarship received, in addition to the customary scholarly and popular praise, a call for investigation and disbarment by (among others) Chief Justice Warren Burger of the Supreme Court of the United States;
  • Monroe advocated, championed, guided, enlightened, and otherwise supported thousands of causes, particularly in capital defense and other criminal law matters (indeed, Alan Dershowitz called on Monroe as Alan’s legal ethics expert in criminal cases); and
  • Monroe famously articulated the perjury “trilemma” of the criminal defense lawyer: the lawyer is impossibly required “to know everything, to keep it in confidence, and to reveal it to the court.”

As legal ethicists attempt to move forward in Monroe’s absence, a new trilemma will present itself over and over: to acquire Monroe’s integrity and spirit of public service . . . without Monroe.

UPDATE: Professor Susan Saab Fortney, the Howard Lichtenstein Distinguished Professor of Legal Ethics at Monroe’s Hofstra Law School, just kindly shared this news and link:

Thanks to everyone for their reflections and words of condolence related to the passing of Monroe.  From the day I arrived at Hofstra, Monroe was a supportive friend and mentor.

Before Monroe’s death, the Professional Responsibility Section of AALS had approved of the following program for the January 2016 annual meeting: “Ethics in Criminal Practice — The Three Hardest Questions Today:  A Conversation in Honor of Monroe Freedman.”  Monroe was very pleased to know about the program.  Bruce Green and I are organizing the program and trying to make it a  double session. We are now deeply saddened that this will be now be a memorial tribute, but honored to continue the discourse that Monroe started fifty years ago with his seminal work.

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